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Pakistan detains opposition leader

Violence, arrests precede Zardari's return

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Pakistan People's Party says thousands were arrested Friday.
Pervez Musharraf
Benazir Bhutto

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani security forces have stormed a plane carrying Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and detained him upon his arrival in the country, witnesses told CNN.

Zardari, the head of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was taken to his home, where government and police authorities placed him under what they call "protective custody."

Zardari disputed the term "protective."

"They arrested me from within the plane and took me on the tarmac in the car, and took me to my house and blocked everybody coming in," Zardari told CNN by telephone from his home.

"They say if you come out we're going to arrest you."

Zardari also told CNN he has a message for his country's leadership: Pakistan "will have to give us free, fair elections and democracy."

The detention occurred while Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was in India on a trip of cricket diplomacy -- to promote peace talks between the two nations and to watch a match between their cricket teams. (Full story)

Earlier, the government had vowed to block any PPP rallies. Before Zardari's arrival, security forces effectively sealed off the city with more than 50 roadblocks and deployed 12,000 police, 4,000 of them at the airport, said police sources.

Tensions appeared to decrease after Zardari's detention.

Shahid Masoor, director of the ARY news channel, spoke with Zardari by telephone and told CNN that the opposition leader was in a "relaxed mood."

Zardari was said to be allowed to hold prayers at a local shrine later Saturday, Masoor said.

Journalists on the plane carrying Zardari told CNN their cameras were taken from them, and they were beaten.

An aide to Zardari who was on the plane, PPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim, was also detained Saturday, witnesses said. It was not clear where he was taken.

Authorities shut down cell towers near the airport to cut off cell phone service.

Hundreds of PPP members managed to reach the Lahore airport Saturday, but police sources said more than 100, including some members of parliament, were arrested as soon as they began chanting slogans.

According to police and PPP sources, more than 5,000 PPP workers, leaders and members of parliament have been arrested since Friday, when thousands of PPP supporters clashed with security forces.

At Karachi's railway station Friday, police charged a group of PPP activists, wounding dozens. At least two journalists were listed in critical condition from injuries suffered in that melee.

Some top members of PPP's leadership were arrested during a meeting.

Opposition parties walked out of parliament Friday in protest of the violence and arrests.

Zardari said his government must know "there's a lot happening. Democracy is today's world order. Everybody's talking democracy in the region and the world. And they will have to give us free, fair elections and democracy."

Zardari had been in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, visiting Bhutto. She has been living in self-imposed exile since 1999 when she left Pakistan to avoid arrest on corruption charges.

Zardari, who was also appointed by his wife as minister of investments, was jailed in 1996 on murder and corruption charges involving millions of dollars stashed away in Swiss bank accounts.

He was released in December after more than eight years in prison. He then went to Dubai to visit his wife.

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

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